I’m not making resolutions this year. I’m not making big, large-scale writing goals outside of the general idea that I’d like to write more and I’m going to start paying attention to what that actually looks like.
What I am doing is establishing four basic tenets that govern my year.
In essence, this ties back to my decision to abandon goals, ’cause none of these have an end-point in mind. Instead, they’re basic principles and philosophies behind how I do what I do, rather than where I want to end up. Effectively, a handful of new rules to live by, which will hopefully shuffle me towards the kind of life I’d like to have if I apply them regularly enough.
TENET ONE: FINISHED BEATS FAST
I have, over the last few years, put an extraordinary amount of effort into the act of trying to write more. What I didn’t do, all that often, was finish things. Nothing takes the thrill out of writing a couple of hundred thousand words in a year like the knowledge that a third of them are still crude first-drafts and the rest are only half-finished projects.
For the coming year, I scaling my expectations way down in terms of producing new words and throwing some focus on actually finishing things..
It’s hard for me to do this one, because I like the idea of writing fast. One of the traits that are shared by all manner of my favourite authors, regardless of genre, is their habit of being both prolific and good.
But prolific only matters if things come out. And things do not come out if they’re sitting half-finished on your hard drive, or they get finished in a slap-dash manner for the sake of getting the next started.
So…finished. Finished and good is more important to me, in 2016, than being fast. The mental cross-hairs need to be re-aligned in all sorts of ways to make this happen, but it can be done.
TENET TWO: I BLAME NO-ONE
Back in 2013 I put a concerted effort into eliminating the response “busy” from my vocabulary when people asked how I’ve been. This year, I’m trying to relinquish the phrase “I blame…” from my list of responses.
It’s become a popular sentiment in recent years – we blame our friends for introducing us to new television and TV shows, we blame illness for retreating into comforting favourites, we blame…well, everything. It’s meant in an endearing way, most of the time, but it has become the new version of a guilty pleasure – a way of distancing ourselves from a narrative or behaviour that doesn’t fit into out self-image or the image we’re trying to portray.
All too often I will find myself saying things like, say, of course I read romance; I blame the year I spent reading Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for work.
And, really, screw that. I am ultimately responsible for choosing the things that I read and watch. I made choices based on suggestions that appealed to me. Blaming someone is defensive and puts distance between me and a thing that I loved, and it’s increasingly feels like I do not appreciate the people who suggest stuff.
If someone has recommended something good, it’s entirely possible thank you for introducing me to this goddamn thing that I love would be a more endearing way of expressing my gratitude. If I’m consuming something that doesn’t feel like it fits with my self-image, perhaps it’s time to adapt rather than pretending it’s some kind of aberration.
TENET THREE: ONE STORY, ONE SCREEN
Like many people who live alone, my television is used for background noise as often as it’s used for watching things. I will frequently stream movies and television shows in the background while I’m writing, while I’m cleaning, while I’m reading, while I do…well, everything.
Even when I actually sit down to watch a film, my attention gets split. I’m on twitter. I’m on Facebook. I’m delivering running commentary in an online space, opening myself up to conversation. I’m starting to do the same when I read.
I would like to start cutting that out and focusing on the thing that I’m consuming this year. If I put a film on, I’m watching it. No books. No computer. No phone. One story, one screen.
TENET FOUR: DIFFERENT AND BETTER
Funny thing about spend a few years battling bat-shit crazy levels of exhaustion – you have very little time and energy to devote to things that challenge you or require a good deal of effort. You end up sticking with your comfort zone, more often than not, and going with what’s familiar. Easy beats all else, whether you’re talking about making dinner or picking a movie to watch.
I ate a lot of McDonalds and ordered in a lot of pizza. I read a very narrow range of genres. I watched a lot of decidedly likeable but not-particularly-ambitious films. I talked to the same group of friends and avoided anything that required dealing with strangers.
Friends would say you should totally check this out or would you like to come to this thing, and my knee-jerk response was I don’t know; it doesn’t really sound like my thing. Which is basically my short-hand for that sounds hard and I’m terrified that I do not have the energy for this.
Basically, I staged a strategic retreat to territory I knew I could hold, ’cause I couldn’t be moving forward.
It’s time to change that particular habit. The tenet behind my engagement with the world is looking for stuff that is different and stuff that is better, whether it’s food or film or fiction or experiences.
I don’t have to leave behind the familiar things that I loved, but it’s time to pay attention and engage with new things, rather than just going sticking with the stuff I can do on automatic. To actually be challenged by things and take chances. To read some stuff, watch some stuff, do some stuff that scares me.